A Lady Walks Into a Jazz Club
One afternoon, a few weeks ago, a lady walked into our jazz club. She was pretty and gracious, refined and well-spoken, and the president of a wine distributing company specializing in varietals from Italy. “So, you want to sell me some wine,” I said. “Yes,” she said. “I think we have an outstanding selection of imports made in small quantities from an Italian winemaker with high standards. I notice that you don’t have any represented on your menu right now. Would you be willing to taste a few?” Now of all the responsibilities of a jazz club owner, the most grueling is that of tasting potential selections for our wine list. It requires a fit palate and a great deal of stamina and endurance. So, I put on my track shoes, did a few warm-up stretches, and along with our wine steward Cory, sat down for a demanding afternoon of focused winetasting.
It didn’t take long for us to find something we liked. Her Vernaccia di San Gimignano was light and crisp, with a slight hint of citrus, sporting substance, but with no overpowering notes. This was the kind of wine you could sip all day out by the pool. “Sold!” I said. I knew this would be a winner in the coming hot, humid months during which guests often ask for Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
The next wine we fell in love with shall remain nameless (so that we can get it onto The Velvet Note menu before anyone else does). I typically do not care for dessert wines, barring the occasional Chateau d’ Yquem on the heels of an outrageously-priced steak dinner. But this one had me at “ciao.” The nose transported me back to my mother’s kitchen when I was eight years old and she was baking mincemeat pie. Upon first taste, the precisely-balanced notes of currant and toast and black cherry filled my senses. It paired perfectly with the Italian cheese wrapped in paper-thin prosciutto that she had generously brought in a little picnic basket to accompany the tasting. I had never experienced any dessert wine selection this delicious—not ever. I closed my eyes, I threw my head back and moaned. I took another sip and let it swirl over the front and back of my tongue. I looked over at Cory and he looked at me as if we had both been huddling in a cave rubbing sticks together and one of us had just noticed a cigarette lighter in the corner. This was the taste that every civilized palate hopes to find some day. We absolutely had to have this wine.
“What is the front line on this one?” Cory coolly inquired. (The “front line” is the cost per bottle to the restaurant, prior to the markup for the menu.) She told us, and believe me, it wasn’t cheap—it essentially eclipsed all of our menu wine prices—yikes! Cory raised an eyebrow at me. He wanted it and so did I, but at that price, we would need to be careful with inventory. “Perhaps we will hold off on this one until the fall and holiday season, when we know it will move fast,” I said. “No problem,” she replied. “ I promise, I will have it for you when you’re ready. In the meantime, let me pour you some more before I go.” Oh, yummy. Yes, please, let it flow.
A few minutes later, the lady had packed her selections and made a copy of our liquor license and set up a delivery date. Before departure, she turned and said, “Oh, one more thing. I wondered if you have a PA system here. I would like to play something for you.” I mentally rolled my eyes. People are always trying to slip us the demo records of their cousin, their client, their sister, their husband….anything to get a chance at a show. And we listen to everything…everything, because music is our business and we want to discover the absolute best. And we will always tell you what we think. As you can imagine, very few rise to the top of the heap, so to speak. “Um, sure….Shawn will show you where to plug in.” I had another sip of wine. Cory grimaced, and shot me a look that clearly conveyed, “If this sucks, let her down easy so that it doesn’t mess up my wine list!”
In the next moments, the earth stood still. The decadently delicious soiree going on in my mouth was accompanied by the sound of a woman singing jazz standards beautifully, in elegantly simple arrangements that would remind you of Diana Krall, complimented by warm and rich notes, and yet, with a luminous clarity reminiscent of Karen Carpenter.
I had never heard this voice before. How could I have missed this star? Shame on me! “Whose CD is this?” I asked. She sat…still… looking down at her fingers, and then up at me. “It’s me, “she quietly answered. “Huh? “ I stared at her in disbelief. “Are you kidding me? With a talent like this, what are you doing selling wine?!?” I asked. “I enjoy selling wine,” she stated. “I enjoy presenting wine. I enjoy traveling to Italy, finding the best wines and the most inspiring winemakers, and introducing them to fellow wine enthusiasts. And I also love to sing.”
I looked over at Cory and he could see my booking agent/talent scout meter skipping off the grid. He silently mouthed to me, “Down, girl,” and kicked me under the table. I leaned back in my chair and took a deep breath. “Do you know how many auditions I would have to sit through before coming across a voice like yours? Let me ask the question another way. Why aren’t you performing on a regular basis? Why haven’t I heard of you? Why are you sitting on this extraordinary talent?” I leaned across the table, “If you love singing, what in the world are you waiting for, my Dear?” She thought about it for a moment. “I could give you a million reasons why, starting my business, raising my children, but it all comes down to the fact that I’ve been waiting to do it my way….waiting for my time. And this feels like my time.”
We talked for what seemed like hours. She shared her story and I shared mine. “We’re a lot alike,” she observed. This wasn’t a typical wine tasting or audition—it was a special connection. When she got up to leave, she shared one of her favorite quotes by Francis Mayes, “They say they built the train tracks over the Alps before there was a train that could make the trip. They built it anyway. They knew one day the train would come. Any arbitrary turning along the way, and I would be elsewhere. I would be different…..Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game.”
And this, in a nutshell, is the story of how we came to know the extraordinary talent and person that is Debbie Tyson Rosen. Debbie will perform at The Velvet Note on Saturday, September 21st, with shows at 7:30pm and 9:30pm. She will be accompanied by highly-respected musicians (Randy Hoexter on piano, Jess Rosen on guitar, Rob Henson on bass and Kenyon Carter on Saxophone), forming a beautiful jazz quintet. She is soulful and sweet and smart and this is her time– run, do not walk, to our box office and make a reservation for one of the only 40 seats available in each show. You should bring the person you love, or the person you would like to love. Oh, and save room on your palate because we will be serving her wines, too. Tickets available at http://thevelvetnote.com/debbie-rosen